in Houston, Texas
Voters claim hotel as residence, use election law loophole to sweep out incumbents in a Woodlands district
Monday, May 10, 2010, 07:04PM CST
By Steve Miller

Voters flocked to the polls Saturday to sweep out three incumbents in the Woodlands Road Utility District, electing three political neophytes to the five-member board of directors.

Timeout: Can a mere dozen people flock?

The vote was 10-2 in a district that has 24 registered voters. And several of those casting ballots spent exactly two nights in the district at a Residence Inn, listing the hotel as their primary home. The contest for the positions, which pay $25 per monthly meeting, was cranked up in the week preceding the election, as a group of activists rallied around a caveat in the state election code that appears to allow the voter to determine his or her domicile.

But due to a complaint to the Montgomery County district attorney’s office, the legal propriety of their registrations will be turned over to the state Attorney General’s office later this week, according to assistant DA Phil Grant.

And expect further protest, Grant said. “I assume there will be a parallel civil action of some sort to contest the validity of this election.”

Peter Goeddertz, Bill Berntsen and Richard McDuffee are the unofficial victors in the first election in the district since 2000, when four voters cast ballots.

Two incumbents Ed Miller and Winton R. Davenport Jr. did not return calls, and a third, Bill Neill, could not be reached.

Mike Page, a Houston lawyer and legal counsel for the district, also did not return calls, although in an interview last week, he doubted that the newly registered voters were valid.

“They don’t reside in the district,” Page said. “Just because they say they do doesn’t make it right.”

Grant declined to name the person making the April complaint about the newly registered voters.

The next board meeting for the utility district, which was created in 1991, is scheduled for May 17.

Goeddertz, who ran unsuccessfully for a Republican Party precinct chair spot several years ago, is expecting some kind of legal fireworks in the coming days, such as those suggested by Grant in the DA's office.

"I think something is going to happen, but I just don't know what," he said.


(Editor's Note: This post was updated at 3:29 p.m. CST Monday, May 10, with the correct spelling of Bill Berntsen's name.)


Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

Adrian Heath
Monday, 05/10/2010 - 04:05PM

Try to incorporate more facts in your story- Like this SOS opinion I furnished you last week - Not what i call a loophole. More like an established principle in Texas law!!!!

The definition of residence for the purpose of voter registration is well settled in Texas. As stated in the seminal case of Mills v. Bartlett, 377 S.W.2d 636, 637 (Tex.1964), “[n]either bodily presence alone nor intention alone will suffice to create the residence, but when the two coincide at that moment the residence is fixed and determined. There is no specific length of time for the bodily presence to continue.”

Adrian Heath
Monday, 05/10/2010 - 04:32PM

p.s. by the way Our Montgomery County DA gave me the above opinion to begin with.

Bob Bagley
Tuesday, 05/11/2010 - 10:34AM

I think the work these men are doing is a service to all taxpayers. We're paying too many taxes (some like these, we don't even know about) and have little say in the way OUR MONEY is being spent. It's sad that more people don't care (it was obvious in Saturday's election).

Tuesday, 05/11/2010 - 01:17PM

Mike Page and the rest of the incumbents that have been shown the door are being hypocrites. The district owes it's very existence to this very same mechanism. The developer merely put a couple of construction trailers on some lots in the gerrymandered district, had a couple of people on the developer's payroll use them as their official residence for voting purposes and then had them vote the district into existence. How is that at all different from what McDuffie, Goeddertz, and Bernsten did?

Pot, meet kettle.

Perturbed by hypocrisy
Wednesday, 05/12/2010 - 02:37PM

This is ridiculous. A hotel for a couple of nights is not a residency within the spirit of the law.

Let's look at a more recent opinion than Mills in 1964. Coury v. Prot, 85 F.3d 244 (5th Cir. 1996) cites some examples of how to determine residence beyond the "intent and presence" standard (using that definition I could say I live at Denny's because I decide to stay in the booth after my meal).

What's important is where a person exercises civil and political rights, owns real and personal property, has driver’s and other licenses, pays taxes, maintains bank accounts, belongs to clubs and churches, has places of business or employment, and maintains a home for his family. Ten of those so-called voters may find those standards a bit too high and they may well find themselves adjudicated as felons for claiming a hotel as their residence when their drivers license, bank records, tax records, etc show a difference residence than the one they used to get into this election. Why do these people want control of the WRUD?

There are millions at stake here -- tax dollars paid by businesses to improve roads in The Woodlands without taxing the residents. In essence, the people of The Woodlands got the benefits and the business owners picked up the tab. Ask those willing to commit election fraud what they stand to gain. Those answers are likely to be fascinating.

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